Amid escalating tensions over Syria, Trump weighs options
Apr 14, 2018, 11:57
"This has Cold War ramifications - if we get a USA pilot shot out of the sky by a Russian missile - that has tinderbox written all over it".
"Whiplash" is probably the best word to describe what Syria watchers are feeling. "We need to think two or three steps ahead".
US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that no decision had been taken about military action, but that any use of force would be in response to multiple chemical attacks carried out by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Complicating any USA response is the presence of Russian and Iranian forces on the ground in Syria.
Asked about the risks of USA military retaliation, Mattis cited two concerns, starting with avoiding civilian casualties.
A Kremlin spokesman warned the U.S. and its allies against any steps that could destabilise the situation in Syria. Trump evidently listened and deferred action for several days, allowing more study.
He called on the United States, France and Britain "not to bring the world to such a risky threshold".
Mattis voiced his concerns in testimony to a House committee Thursday. Russia's ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, on Tuesday said any missiles the United States launches at Syria could be shot down, perhaps by the Russian Federation military. And these two countries, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are extremely anxious about the increasing influence of Iran, which is also part of this new geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape in the world. A second official said the Syrian military had gone into an increased defensive posture. The Russians have recently "reminded us about what they would have preferred to know last year" when the United States struck a Syrian air base after a nerve-agent attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun.
The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to a confrontation with Russian Federation hung over the Middle East on Friday but there was no clear sign that a US-led attack was imminent.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria", Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning.
But such measured actions are harder when they're preceded by presidential taunts.
Trump's tweets Wednesday also delivered a mixed message, not unusual for the mercurial president. "Big price to pay".
Despite tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week suggesting a missile strike might be imminent, the White House, State Department and Pentagon have been cautious in their language, emphasizing the need to forge an airtight case against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
So far, Trump has played coy about the timing of the strike, saying Thursday "we're looking very very seriously, very closely at that whole situation and we'll see what happens folks", and that the strike could happen "fairly soon".
In New York, Russia's United Nations ambassador warned the priority in Syria was to avert US-led strikes that could lead to a confrontation between the world's two preeminent nuclear powers. This week's delay should also reassure analysts, here and overseas, who feared that Mattis's standing with Trump would be diminished after the firing of his friend Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the United States, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.
But they backed action in Iraq the following year, and again in Syria in 2015, strictly limiting strikes to Islamic State (IS) group targets.
It seems Trump has made up his mind.
"Israel, Saudi Arabia, and even elements within the U.S. government are likely to try and use this situation to push Trump to assume a more forceful position against Iran on the ground in Syria", Barnes-Dacey added.
Trump is heading into a 60-day period that will go far to determine the fate of his presidency and the future of the Middle East.
On Saturday morning, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that French fighter jets took off from multiple bases in France for the strike.
She said the Syrian army's victory in Eastern Ghouta constituted a turning point in the course of the Syrian war. President Emmanuel Macron says France has proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks.
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